Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reel People: Amy Adams is Margaret Keane

The film is Big Eyes. Tim Burton directs the film with a screenplay written by Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karszewski.

Margaret Keane

Margaret Keane was born in Tennessee in 1927. Margaret Keane was an artist who would become famous for her large eyed paintings of children.

Margaret married a man named Frank Ulbrich, they had a daughter named Jane. In 1952

Margaret Ulbrich met another artist, Walter Keane, while she was doing art at a fairground in 1953. Margaret would divorce Frank and marry Walter in 1955.

Margaret, Walter and both of their daughters (Jane from her first marriage, and Susan from his first marriage) did art shows together selling their work.

In 1964 the couple would separate. The divorce would be finalized in 1965.

Margaret would move to Hawaii, and at this time also became a Jehovah's Witness.

After the divorce, Walter was called out by Margaret for taking credit for art that was done by her, particularly the large eyed portraits. After Walter compared himself to Rembrandt and El Greco. Margaret challenge Walter to a paint off in San Francisco's Union Square, but Walter did not attend.

This feud escalated in the 1980s, specifically in 1984 when she claimed Walter "couldn't learn to paint at all...let him paint or shut up." Walter responded in USA Today article, to which Margaret responded with a slander suit. truly done by Margaret, and that she was the artist who had painted the famous large-eyed portraits.

During the 1986 jury trial there was a paint-off in which Margaret produced a painting in less than an hour, while Walter declined to paint due to medication for an injured shoulder. Margaret also produced similar pictures she had drawn as a child. Margaret won the lawsuit and was awarded $4 million in damages and emotional distress.

Currently, Margaret Keane lives in Napa County, California.

Big Eyes

The film Big Eyes focuses on the relationship and story of Walter Keane taking credit for Margaret Keane's artwork, including their divorce and court room battles.

In addition to staring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz headlines playing the part of Walter Keane.

The film also features Terrance Stamp (as art critic John Canaday), Krysten Ritter, Danny Houston, Jason Schwartzman and Jon Polito.

Amy Adams has been an Oscar regular over the past decade, will playing this contemporary artist earn her an Oscar nomination, maybe even a win, for portraying this Real (Reel) Person

Reel People: Benedict Cumberbatch is Alan Turing

The film is The Imitation Game, which is directed by Morten Tyldum. This is the first feature length screenplay by Graham Moore and is based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

Alan Turing

Alan Mathison Turing was born June 23, 1912 in London, England, the second son of Julius Turing a member of the Indian Civil Service. Early on in his childhood, Alan was identified to be a genius by both his parents and teachers. He was observed to be atypically astute at mathematics and science.

As a student, he developed a close friendship with a peer named Christopher Morcom. Morcom died in 1930 of bovine tuberculosis, and the event caused Turing to become an atheist.

In 1931 Turing began studying at King's College, Cambridge. And by the age of 22 had been elected a fellow at King's College. His studies largely were based on computation and arithmetic-based formula language, which would form the basis for the devices later known as Turing  machines.

When WWII broke out, Turing shifted efforts and became involved with the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). Here Turing was largely involved in breaking the code of the Third Reich's principal crypto-system done on the Enigma Machine. During this time one of the primary accomplishments was Turing provided much of the original thought involved in the creation of the Bombe machine that would be used to break the naval Enigma.

Following the war in 1945 Turing worked on the design of the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) at the National Physical Laboratory, which became the first design for the stored-program computer.

In 1948 he was appointed Reader in the Mathematics Department at the University of Manchester, and then in 1949 the Deputy Director of the Computing Laboratory. Also at this time he was writing papers on artificial intelligence, developed what became known as the Turing test to assess between human and artificial intelligence,  and designing a computer Chess program with a colleague for a computer that did not yet exist.

He also developed the decomposition method used for solving matrix equations.

In 1952 he shifted his studies towards biological mathematics.

During this same time he also began a homosexual relationship with Arnold Murray, a  19-year-old unemployed man. After Turing's home was burglarized in 1952 by an acquaintance of Murray, Turing went to the police and in that time disclosed his relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time and both Turing and Murray were both charged with gross indecency. Turing pled guilty and was given the choice of imprisonment or hormone therapy.  Turing chose the therapy. The conviction also led the to the removal of his security clearance and limitations to his ability to travel, including to the United States.

On June 8, 1954 Turing dyed of cyanide poising and although not fully investigated, it was believed he committed suicide by poising an apple that was found lying beside his bed. Although alternative theories exist that would not be suicidal, such as fumes from a gold electroplating apparatus that used cyanide in a spare room in his home.

He was cremated on June 12, 1954 at the Woking Crematorium.

The Imitation Game

The film the imitation game focuses on Turing's work in WWII to crack the Enigma code, and was a popular script with a bidding war between many studios. The film, which will be distributed by The Weinstein Company in the United States and Studio Canal in the United Kingdom.

In addition to Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing the film will also feature Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke another code breaker for GC&CS at Bletchley Park during WWII. Clarke and Turing had a relationship and short lived engagement in 1941.

Also featured are Matthew Goode as cryptanalyst and chess champion Conel Hugh O'Donel Alexander; Charles Dance as head of of the GC&CS, Commander Alexander Guthrie Dennison; and Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies, Chief of MI6 during WWII.

Benedict Cumberbatch has been very active in TV and film the past couple years but has never been nominated for an Oscar, can playing this WWII code-break earn him an Oscar nomination, maybe even a win, for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Real (Reel) People Win Oscars: 2014 Edition

When it comes to win an Academy Award, recent years have shown that not any bio-pic performance means a guaranteed nomination, but if you get nominated for your performance playing a real person, then there is a good chance you will win.

Of the past 10 years (20 Lead Actor/Actress winners), 12 of these winners have won for playing real life people. That's 60% of winners since the 2003 ceremony.

• In 2013 Matthew McConaughey played AIDs drug smuggler Ron Woodroof and won the Oscar for Best Oscar.
• In 2012 Daniel Day-Lewis played Abraham Lincoln and won the Best Actor award (his third Oscar win)
• In 2011 Meryl Streep played the well known British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and won the Best Actress prize (her third Oscar)
• In 2010 Colin Firth played King George VI, stuttering British royalty at the dawn of the radio era and won for Best Actor.
• In 2009 Sandra Bullock played a surprise hero as the Southern mother Leigh Ann Tuohy and won for Best Actress.
• In 2008 Sean Penn played controversial politician Harvey Milk and won the Oscar for Best Actor.
• In 2007 Marion Cotillard played French singer Ediath Piaf and won the Oscar for Best Actress.
• In 2006 Helen Mirren played Queen Elizabeth II and won the Oscar for Best Actress.
• In 2006 Forrest Whitaker played Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and won the Oscar for Best Actor
• In 2005 Reese Witherspoon played country music celeb June Carter and won the Oscar for Best Actress.
• In 2005 Philip Seymour Hoffman played author Truman Capote and won the Oscar for Best Actor.
• In 2004 Jamie Foxx played musician Ray Charles and won the Oscar for Best Actor.

The non-biopic winners from the past 10 years: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lining Playbook), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Kate Winslet (The Reader), Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby).

I wouldn't expect 2014 to be different. As a result we can almost plan on either Best Actor Oscar winner or Best Actress winner going to a performer who played in a biographical film as a "Real (Reel) Person."

2014 Real (Reel) People Performances:

Reel People: Amy Adams is Margaret Keane
• Reel People: Steve Carrell is John du Pont
• Reel People: George Clooney is George Stout
Reel People: Benedict Cumberbatch is Alan Turing
• Reel People: Matt Damon is James Rorimer
• Reel People: Dakota Fanning is Effie Gray
Reel People: Jack O'Connell is Louis Zamperini
Reel People: Eddie Redmayne is Stephen Hawking
Reel People: Timothy Spall is J.M.W. Turner
• Reel People: Channing Tatum is Mark Schultz
Reel People: Reese Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed
Reel People: John Lloyd Young is Frankie Valli

Click the following links to see the previous Real (Reel) People projects from 201320122011201020092008 and 2007. Or check the reel people archive.

Surprisingly Deep Thoughts After the Viewing of the Shallow Movie "The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz"

Last week I watched the ridiculous and not-that-great film The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz directed by George Marshall. This was not a planned viewing, but I was home, it was on, and I said: "why not? watch a comedy about an East German Olympic hopeful pole vaulting over the Berlin Wall."

This 1968 comedy has some typical comic elements, a little slapstick, a little situational irony, and a little dose of coincidence, not to mention a love story where the principal players go from not-interested to interested.

[So knowing that you're not going to watch this film, I still will say at this point "spoiler warning" and encourage you to read on from here.]

What struck me watching this file was the whole time, the main character, Paula Schultz (Elke Sommer), was essentially being exploited. She was first exploited by the soviets, and when she was fully exploited by her nation, the propaganda minister Klaus (Werner Klemperer) tries to save her by essentially setting her up in a penthouse to be used for sexual gain. But before this can occur, Paula escapes -- and the tone of this film is that her escape and this situation is funny.

Further into the film she is in West Germany where a black market operator Bill Mason (Bob Crane) hides her with a friend who works for the CIA. Yet, while Bill is interested in saving Paula, he also is willing to negotiate with the Soviet government and the CIA to see who can give him the best deal for Paula and in the end she's sent back to East Berlin with the Soviet's offering a higher bid and she is again potentially under the control of Klaus and the Soviet government.

In the end Bill Mason realizes he is in love with Paula and goes into East Germany to save her.

Yet it really bothered me that he was going in to save her, not for her safety/dignity/human respect but because he loved her -- an interest that in essence is selfishly driven.

So, in all of this exploitation portrayed in this 1960s film (in the name of comedy), it really got me thinking. I don't have any huge insight, and I do want to be measured in my response, knowing it's just a film (and not a very popular one at that). But, it is interesting how often we like comedy that pushes the envelop, and yet social/political comedy might be funny because it is a little awkward or gives us the sense "I can't believe they did that" (I mean, hello, it's a cold war comedy about pole-vaulting over the Berlin wall). Yet, it's a pity to think about how at this time people might watch this film without a sense of how much exploitation was going on.

Paula in this film in essence is able to be saved from much of the exploitation due to her personality, her personal confidence, her ability to escape situations, and a script who keeps her out of true harm. Yet, exploitation of people is real, and hardly comedic. And yet we have this film, and certainly others that paint government and leaders who misuse their power and men who are weak to stand up for truth and instead look towards their own financial gain.

I watch a film like this and wonder, knowing people continue to be exploited -- whether we ignore these things, and although knowing I am not exploiting people in the way of Klaus or the soviet government of the 1960s, yet, am I part of situations like the army buddies Bill Mason and Herbert Sweeney who fail to stand up for Paula for fear of their own position in society or their own potential lost financial gain? I hope not - but it's worth considering and mindful of. I would hate for something I do today that seems "common" to in the future be something I look back on as "unfortunate" in this regard, particularly if I was allowing people to be exploited, say by virtue of my financial choices, ignorance to what was happening in the world, or lack of interest in standing up for the rights of those who are exploited.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I Wonder...a thought on Period Piece Television

I was thinking today about shows like Mad Men which are period piece dramas. And thinking about how the original crew (maybe screenwriter, director, producer) might have had a vision of the show and was patient about telling a story that takes place in a particular time/era. The first episode had the setting of March 1960.

Yet, the final season (season 7) started with the show taking place in 1969 - a very different time period after a very interesting decade in American history. I wondered if some of the original team (attached or unattached to the project by Season 7) perhaps found themselves less excited about portraying these characters in this different time period.

Granted, I'm sure that people are excited when a show is successful but it's interesting to think of these period piece dramas changing over time simply because the setting is forced to change by the way they propel the passing of time. Mad Men could have avoided this by keeping the story static and moving along at a snails pace through time - if 24 can have a whole season take place only in a day, a season of Mad Men theoretically could have been written to span only a month or two, keeping the film grounded in the early 1960s, as opposed to years at a time. Although, this probably wouldn't have truly suited the shows plot or it's fanbase.

Similarly, some other period dramas I've been watching are the BBC Masterpiece classic shows. The first episode of Downton Abbey took place in 1912, but by the end of Season 4 (the Christmas special to be precise), it was summer of 1923. Again, different time periods, by nature making it a different story -- to the show's betterment or disaster, and similarly I wonder if original creative crew members find 1923 less inspiring than 1912 based on their initial creation of the project.

Mr Selfridge another BBC show I enjoy has season 1 in 1909 and follows up season 2 in 1914.

It's interesting to think about time changes setting and plot, but the story I've wondered about is how time period changes impacts the energy, creativity, and ultimately the crew members involved in telling the stories in successful period drama.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Wrestling Anonymous Me

One of the good decisions I feel like I have made in blogging here is remaining anonymous. I remember when I started a friend of mine suggested that by not using my name I made this space less genuine.

At the same time, protecting my current self from my future self was my primary goal. I'm fortunate that today people are not Googling my name and finding who knows what I said 8 years ago on this blog.

That said, tonight in meeting with a group of people discussing and praying about what it might be for us to take a more active role in the work of our city I had interest in posting some of that information here. But at the same time, I thought it was important to at a minimum share the name of the city I lived in, maybe even my real name (just my first name, let's not get crazy!). And create a slightly more genuine place for a slightly more genuine conversation.

Strike that - the conversation is not necessarily more genuine - at time, I imagine the anonymous nature here has allowed me to me more honest. Granted friends and family know they can find me here - but I (the real I) cannot be found without some nudging.

I would love to share my new blog with you here, in part because I think it speaks to a new chapter of new adventures, and at least a new part of me. But this was not the place for that story. Not because of the content, but more than anything else, I felt like it was important to (1) be genuine about my location - it will help tell the story better and also help stay out of vagueness (2) I want those who I share the project to reach our community in be able to engage there without other random musings or thoughts I might place here.

And so - this post is to share that I won't be sharing. Odd, that way?

I referenced the book Alone Toghether by Sherry Turkle a few times here and multiple times in my own real-life life with others. This book is striking and important in how we talk and experience life in a real and virtual world - in my opinion, often to our harm. But one of the thing that strikes me even writing this now is that Sherry talks a fair amount about our "Virtual Self" and that we present ourselves virtually in a way that differs from who we are, or in a way that's at least different than how we present ourselves outside of the virtual world.

I've come to accept this dichotomy, and not sure how important it is me to try to always bring my real self and virtual self together. In many senses I think it makes me want to kill my virtual self -- virtual self suicide if you will, the part of me that considers never posting on Facebook or instagram ever again. And yet, I always come back.

In the same way - I continue to write here. And now, the virtual suicide is thwarted further with a new side of me. Yet, that side of me is one that can't collide here. Perhaps, it's me that's making it too complicated. Managing all the different parts of me and how I extend in the virtual space in a way that is a schizophrenic virtual me. I worry is it worth maintaining the facebook me, the instagram me, the linkedin me, and the blog me?

I try to not make these all different personea's but it's impossible not to. Not to mention, it seems to me (maybe it's a false assumption) that the risk is to high to collide all the parts of me into one virtual self.

When I think about it, sometimes I'm okay with, and sometimes it disturbs me. Yet, I can't kill the virtual me and I can't seem to make them fully collide either.